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Failure, Ouch! Changing the hurt of unexpected outcomes.

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Mostly we seek out stuff that enriches our life and leads us down a pathway to some sort of success.

From time to time, you find yourself experiencing the opposite from success. An epic fail, a topsy turvy outcome, that beautiful vision of success sabotaged before your very being!

Whilst in our adult life we usually increase our resilience to change, uncertainty and undesired outcomes, through “grown-up” logic and perspective. It can still hurt (and hurt hard) when something you set out to do turns out “wrong”. Our mature outlook goes out the window as we fret like a disappointed and exacerbated child!

Your common sense and rationale can easily go out the window when it comes to “feeling” failure.

Instead, you get tetchy, anxious, resentful, embarrassed or despairing. Your perception of how shocking the circumstances appear in comparison to what you desired can be physically painful and emotionally exhausting.

Success ultimately translates in its simplest term to doing it right and ideally “getting it right first time”. Being seen to be successful is often more valued as a societal position. Surrounded by a mirage of illusions of success, with social media focusing very much on outcome not process. When someone/something is “In” success we often forget or minimise the struggle or efforts that might have come first, our brain much rather enjoys the chemistry of a positive outcome then the endurance of getting there. Generally societal structures discourage failure and go as far as to shame it. But read any millionaires autobiography and you will discover it littered with failed attempts and embarrassments, along the way.

Hopefully there was someone in your life as you were growing up telling you that “ everything will be ok”. Softening the blow of errors, comforting the upset even encouraging a little haphazard exploration in the process of achieving. However, for many the opposite may be true with pressure to “do your best” or “try harder” which can easily convert to feelings of immense self-pressure, judgement and anxiety when things don’t pan out as ideal. If this is you, it’s easier to hide, avoid or fib when it comes to messing up or falling short, the shame of honesty and asking for help might just be too uncomfortable to entertain.

Time is a good companion to have in the face of failure. With time maybe you recover, move on, get over it, see it in a new light. Time is mostly a good friend in self-forgiveness but for some people it festers worry and embarrassment, sniffing out all possible proof that you are a failure. You = Failure.

Failure has a great memory it’s easy for the mind to link a sense of one failure to another. Amplifying the experience of emotional distress in an often-disproportionate way.

We are actually failing at something every day. Maybe you misplace your keys (fail) or forget to get more milk (fail). Maybe you chose the busy route home (fail) or did your shirt buttons up skewed (fail) or called your child the wrong name (fail!). Seemingly these tiny failures do not amount to much in our day to day mission for survival, we shrug them off quite easily.

Failure tends to hurt when you have put a value or weight to the meaning and comparison between the poles of success and messing up.

Failure to get shortlisted for an interview when you are miserable in your current job. That’s probably going to hurt.

Or saying something “stupid” in front of colleagues who already seem to disregard your opinion. That’s going to make you wince.

The value and meaning we have in the context of making our success can determine how we “do” our failure experience. How we feel, what self-talk we say to ourselves or how we behave as a consequence of our actions.

Failure also loves patterns. It’s a social butterfly that grows in presence with a community of other fails. Failure is quick to hijack your mindset and gather up its clan. Suddenly those mis-buttoned jackets and lost keys grow in epic proportion and drama alongside that failed attempt at sport, or a disastrous date.

We are more likely to avoid opportunities if failure is something that is emotionally bookmarked in our sub-conscious minds. Your past failures really do haunt your current and future potential if you let them.

It is so easy to distort, generalise and delete the bigger picture when we are faced with a feeling of failure.

By generalising we can make Yourself The Failure. In having one or a couple of things go wrong you might begin to don the title and ownership of this “I am a failure” plot line. A whole Self of hopelessness and dismay.

We delete all the good stuff (which is likely to be in greater proportion to that of which we failed) because the emotional experience of the mishap or undesired outcomes weighs so unpleasantly heavy in our mind and body and becomes a hazy fog of which to see through.

Distorting our viewpoint. Putting off opportunities because the view is skewed to a belief that you will mess up rather than succeed or do alright. You might distort your view others have of you too. Believing that everyone is indulging in your embarrassment and misfortune.

It is easy to see why we probably do everything we can to avoid failure.

Who wants to hurt, be embarrassed, be upset, frustrated, disheartened? Of course, the answer will commonly be “Not me please”.

The flip side of this is that failure offers an amazing space to grow, learn, build confidence, assert yourself, refine your identity and innovate. By learning to reframe and see failure as a skill you can begin to open up the freedom of the experience that accompanies it. Failure is vulnerability. Something we are not always great at. Whilst I am not endorsing a deliberate attempt to mess up, I am encouraging you to consider how to be kinder to yourself in the process of challenges and uncertainty.

When we perceive Failure as a shameful, negative beast we also select to limit our choices, opportunities and we pre-frame our experience in one that invests energy into negativity.

If you look from a perspective of deficit instead of embracing the learning, or journey we have made in your attempts so far we prolong the experience of hurt and misery, beyond what might be useful?

Biologist call our addiction to success The Winner Effect. When we succeed it produces dopamine and testosterone into our body, the more we feel in positive regard about our outcomes the more we produce. These hormones help us with vavavoom, determination, even focus and optimism and in turn biologists claim that our performance follows a similar trend, the effect results in a win.

Turn your perspective of failure into learning, survival, innovation and we begin to delve back into the hormones of pleasure, clarity, contentedness and confidence. Instead of wishing you could run and hide!

Change how you feel about failure and you change how you feel when you fail.

It might feel silly, difficult or confusing to consider how failure could indeed be something to help you with your life’s health, happiness and success.

There is growing acceptance in considering failure this way. As big corporate companies like Google and Facebook celebrate employee’s failure and vulnerability with “Failure parties” that help enhance emotional resilience and the ability to bounce back when things go wrong.

Understanding that being “hard on yourself” could in fact block happiness and positive mindset is a valuable sense to gain. You can still be brave, own up, take responsibility for the stuff that went “wrong”. Yet to do so from a courageous, learning frame that gives a big hug to your suffering part and transforms you into a survivor, that makes more sense right?

If you would like to be part of a supportive online community and learn to change the way you feel about failure, reduce anxiety and move forward from mishaps and misfortunes with ease in the future join in the #workshop event #onlineFreedom to Fail” Follow the Link HERE

(The next Freedom to Fail workshop runs, online, Wednesday 20th October 2021 6-8.30pm GMT)

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